Kahoolawe going back
to native foliage

A draft plan calls for planting
Hawaiian hau trees and naupaka

By Gary T. Kubota

WAILUKU -- Hawaiians are planning to roll back time to when native plants dominated the island once used for military bombing practice.

A draft plan is being developed for restoring native foliage of Kahoolawe, the 45-square-mile island that was returned to the state in 1994 by the federal government.

It is now undergoing cleanup and restoration authorized by Congress for up to $400 million.

The draft, scheduled to be completed in September, is expected to be a significant departure from reforestation done by the U.S. Navy and state, which began planting alien tamarisk trees 18 years ago.

The trees are on the east side of Kahoolawe, where there is more vegetation, especially since goats were eliminated from the island seven years ago. Critics say there are also more alien plants and that the tamarisk poses a major threat to the ecology of the island.

Native Hawaiian plant specialist Rene Sylva said the tamarisk secretes salt and its root system absorbs the moisture that would support native foliage.

Sylva said some native Hawaiian foliage he planted eight years ago at the request of the Navy is still growing on Kahoolawe, including a patch of naupaka and a hau tree.

Members of the Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission rejected a proposal in May to plant more tamarisk trees as windbreaks and have instructed their staff to develop a plan for nurturing native foliage on the island.

"The thought is give the native plants the first chance using the technology we have today," said commission Chairman Dr. Emmett Aluli.

Aluli said the commission envisions Kahoolawe as having a variety of native plants, including edible and herbal plants used in traditional native medicine.

He said the objective is in keeping with the state's designation of the island as an educational center for native Hawaiian culture. Under a state law, Kahoolawe is to be eventually turned over to a native Hawaiian sovereign entity recognized by the state and federal governments.

Hawaiians say they will be breaking new ground in developing a plan to nurture native plants in this hostile windswept, dry land.

Kahoolawe lacks any source of water at the top of the island, where the red dirt has turned as hard as rock in some places.

Under a proposal authorized by the commission, the Navy will be allowed to detonate tiny charges to create holes for planting foliage. It will enable excavation without the risk of injury from someone accidentally striking ordnance.

Workers are scheduled to conduct a trial planting of native Hawaiian foliage in December.

Commission Executive Director Keoni Fairbanks believes if successful, reforestation of the island with native plants could be applied to other Hawaii locations.

"It will help in other areas, particularly in Lahaina and Molokai where you have the same kind of erosion," he said.

Fairbanks said a survey of the island indicates there was water below the island.

He said the quality of the water remains unknown, and the cost of drilling would be expensive -- at least half a million dollars.

Aluli said the commission probably will have to create a catchment system to capture rain water and also resort to a bit of spiritual intervention.

"We're going to have to pray for rain," Aluli said.

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